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Capture logoKrishna Das will be there. Jai Uttal will be there. Deva & Miten too.  Even Shyamdas, the bhakti world’s most beloved Ambassador of Bhava, will be there, in all his bhavalicious glory.  Journey OM: Into the Heart of India, the cinematic masterpiece in the works from veteran filmmaker and original bhakti bhaiya John Bush, promises to be the bhakti movie of the year.

Right now, you can be a part of this film’s development by pre-ordering the DVD and soundtrack featuring Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, Deva Premal & Miten and more.  ACT FAST! The campaign ends at 1:19 a.m EST on Friday, April 24.

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There’s a certain mystique about India that can be hard to define.  For many in the bhakti world, the pull is strong, like that of a mother beckoning her children home.  There’s an almost inexplicable longing that cuts straight to the soul, not unlike what we imagine the Gopi cowherds felt for their sweet Govinda.

Journey OM aims to capture that elusive quality that makes India unlike any other place in the world.  But don’t mistake this upcoming film for some ordinary travelogue cataloging must-see pit stops on a well-trodden tourist path. Journey OM, according to filmmaker John Bush, takes you off the beaten track.  Way off.

Focused on ‘Places of Passage’

Bush focuses his camera on so-called tirthas, holy “places of passage” that are believed to be sacred sites where the veil between worlds is thin, where it is possible for even ordinary humans to cross over from worldly materialism to spiritual nirvana with relative ease.  (Tirtha is a Sanskrit word that translates to “ford,” or a shallow part of a body of water that can be easily crossed.)

Mother India is rife with tirthas — legendary places with thousands-years-old histories in Hindu scripture and mythology. For example, at the very Southern tip of India is the island of Rameswaren, said to be the place from which Hanuman and Rama’s army built the bridge to Lanka to rescue Sita from the evil king Ravana, as is written in the Hindu epic, “The Ramayana.”  In the holy land of Braj there is Govardhan Hill, the mountain that Krishna, as a young boy, lifted high to protect the people of Vrindavan from the torrential rains that the god Indra had let loose in his anger.  And the list goes on…

“These are power spots,” says Bush. “They’ve been identified over thousands of years as places of transcendence, where one can go from earthly consciousness to celestial consciousness.”  Journey OM will take the viewer on a magical mystery tour of a dozen or so of these sites, with the intent of conveying a feeling of the sacredness of these places.

Bush at RanakpurJain Temple in Rajasthan“Each place has its own story, its own flavor,” Bush told The Bhakti Beat. “The revelations along the way are really geared to have a transformative effect for the viewer, to impart that ‘inner-journey’ experience of a sacred pilgrimage.”

Bush, the inspiration and perspiration behind Journey OM, is the real deal. He didn’t jump on the mantra bandwagon yesterday; his bhakti roots are deep — more than 40 years deep to be exact.  He was with Ram Dass back in the days of “psychedelic evangelism” of 1960’s America.  Like Ram Dass, he traveled to the Far East in search of that same feeling of transcendence, of divine consciousness, sans LSD.  He met Shyamdas when Shyamji was just 19, and developed a deeper friendship with him in the weeks before he died. The night Shyamdas left his body, they had been in satsang together, and Bush was in the car that, mere minutes after it happened, came across the scene of the motorcycle accident that claimed Shyamdas’ life.  They had planned for weeks to shoot footage around Shyamdas’ home in Braj for Journey OM, which is dedicated to Shyamdas.

On the Bus with Maharaji

John Bush 1971Along with  Ram Dass, Krishna Das, Daniel Goleman and a host of others, John Bush was on “the bus” — the one that Krishna Das has told the story of countless times — that arrived at its destination at precisely the same moment that the elusive Maharaji, Neem Karoli Baba stepped into the street, leaving the bewildered Westerners on board scratching their heads with mouths agape.

That moment — the first time Bush met the Indian Saint — was a turning point for the long-haired hippy from America.  “My life changed dramatically at that point,” Bush says.  He had been on his way back home after a series of meditation retreats in a remote Burmese monastery.  Instead, he spent the next couple of years following Maharaji in a kind of ongoing pilgrimage.  It was when the young Bush first connected with the age-old tradition of spiritual pilgrimage, and became fascinated by it.  It was also the period where Bush connected with kirtan, taking his turn as one of the Western wallahs in Baba’s entourage.

Later, back in the States, Bush roomed with Jai Uttal in Berkely for a period, and joined with Uttal, Krishna Das and Bhagavan Das in a bhakti band called “Amazing Grace.” They made a kirtan album, played at festivals and toured the Pacific Northwest, essentially launching the careers of three of the bhakti world’s best-known wallahs.  But unlike his bandmates, Bush — a new father at the time — decided the life of a professional musician was not for him.  He moved to Cambridge, Mass., and settled into a more traditional lifestyle, albeit one where kirtan and satsang continued to have a strong presence.

Fast-forward to the year 2000 or so.  Career finished, Bush returns to his “long-deferred dream” of sharing with the world, through film, the sacred cultures he fell in love with as a youth.  He filmed and produced an award-winning trilogy of pilgrimage films to Southeast Asia and Tibet, which were aired on PBS and around the world.  His documentary feature film, “Vajra Sky Over Tibet,” is endorsed by the Dalai Lama and has been screened as part of the official program of His Holiness in more than a dozen cities.

Bush describes Journey OM as “wall-to-wall bhakti.”  Not only does the soundtrack feature Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, and Deva Premal & Miten, but the entire film is steeped in the bhava of the devotional journey.

“Pilgrimage is part of the yoga of devotion,” he says. “My hope is that through the cultural immersiveness of this film, the viewer has their own transformative experience, their own inner journey.”

Journey Om cover shot

 

 

Contribute Now to JOURNEY OM’s kickstarter campaign.

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The Bhakti Beat needs your support!  We are non-commercial and not-for-profit,  a free service to the bhakti community that is completely self-funded save for the loving contributions of Bhakti Beaters like you.  Your support is critical — please share the Beat with your bhakti peeps, connect with us on social media (links below), and consider a one-time or recurring donation (DONATE HERE) to help us keep this bhav boat afloat.  Thank you from the bottom of our bhav brain, heart and soul. In loving service...

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SRI Kirtan Sruti Ram Ishwari @ Bhakti Fest Midwest by TheBhaktiBeat.comProject: Full-length Studio-Recorded CD
Fundraising Goal: $13,000
Deadline: July 19, 2014 @ 11:59 p.m. PT
Contribute  Here NOW!
 
Ed. Note: This is part of our ongoing series on Crowdfunding Kirtan, in which fans and friends contribute money for new recording projects in exchange for “perks” ranging from free downloads to private concerts.  The trend has grown as record labels have cut back and artists have to fund projects themselves.

The Artists

Sruti Ram and Ishwari are SRI Kirtan.  Based in the heart of New York’s Bhajan Belt in Woodstock, this powerhouse pair of bhaktas already have two stellar CDs under their belt (“Fire of Devotion” and “Live Your Love”) and are rising stars in the bhakti world.  They have been mainstays for years at Omega’s Ecstatic Chant, invariably singing alongside Shyamdas, their long-time friend and collaborator.  Shyamdas, the revered Sanskrit scholar, master of Hari Katha and favorite uncle of Western kirtan, knew a good thing when he saw it — and he knew SRI Kirtan to be the real deal, authentic in their devotional service and masterful musicians who can take you deep into quiet meditation or raise you up in ecstatic dance.

Ishwari of SRI Kirtan Bhakti Fest Midwest by TheBhaktiBeat.comSruti Ram and Ishwari were part of Shyamdas’ inner satsang circle when he was home in New York, were right there next to Shyamji during every one of his famous Bhajan Boats on the Hudson River, and for his epic final performance at Bhakti Fest Midwest in 2012. They organized the first annual Shyamdas Memorial Kirtan last year to celebrate the life and lila of their friend, headlined Ananda Ashram’s Shyamdas tribute, anchored the first Ahimsa Festival at Windham Mountain last fall and will again this fall, and have claimed a coveted spot at Bhakti Fest for their own sets in the past couple of years.  Whether playing Bhakti Fest main stage or for an intimate gathering of locals in their hometown ‘hood, SRI Kirtan never fails to rock the bhav.

Sruti Ram of SRI Kirtan by TheBhaktiBeat.comTogether, this pair has several decades of musical experience under their belt, spanning an astounding range of musical genres.  Ishwari, a seasoned sound engineer and producer, explored folk, punk rock, opera (yep, opera), and electronica before settling into kirtan.  Sruti Ram, who was part of the bhakti brotherhood who traveled to India in the 1960’s to soak in the bhav of Neem Karoli Baba (along with Shyamdas, Krishna Das, Jai Uttal and others), has a background in Gregorian chant, opera (yep, opera again), and doo-wop, along with 40-odd years leading kirtan.  (He also has some pretty radical stories from rock n’ roll — ask him about Elton John stealing his platform shoes just before going onstage sometime in the 1970’s…)

The Project

This will be SRI Kirtan’s third CD, following the rockingly bhavalicious “Live Your Love” in 2010 (which Shyamdas called a “bhakti blast”), and their first foray as a duo, “Fire of Devotion.”  CD No. 3 promises to deliver deeper devotion, a reflection of the evolution of their musical partnership.  They told The Bhakti Beat in an interview: “We’ve become more comfortable in how we present our music to the public…we’ve become more moody, embracing what the chants actually feel like.”

Sruti Ram Ishwari SRI Kirtan by TheBhaktiBeat.com

That certainly is true of the title track we sampled.  It (and the CD) will be called “Daga Magi Chal,” a term from the lyrical Braj Bhasha language (“the language of Lord Krishna”) that refers to Krishna’s inimitable swagger, or the way he moves.  The song is inspired by the work of one of the Ashta Chaap poets, the 15th century bhakti poets that Shyamdas has brought to life through his translations.  It features lyrical English verses written by Ishwari combined with the original Braj Bhasha words, which seem to hold the very vibration of the Supreme Lover Krishna in their tones.  We first experienced it via speakerphone from a very rough recording, and even though we could barely hear it among the signal distortions of two cell phones on speakerphone, the frequency of love held within the words and melody cut straight to our soul and left us with goosebumps.  No exaggeration.

That track alone is enough to make this CD a must-have.  But of course there’s more, drawing from this duo’s rich array of vocal capacities.  There will be an ode to Radhe that will transport you to Vrindavan; a Hawaiian style Sita Ram chant dedicated to Ram Dass that will take you straight to Maui; a “more upbeat, more dancey” remix of “Live Your Love,” the title track from the previous CD; two Maha Mantras evoking very different moods, and their signature rockin’ version of the Hanuman Chalisa.

“Daga Maga Chal” will feature guest artists Steve Gorn on bansuri flute, Visvambhar Sheth (Mayapuris) on mridanga, Noah Hoffeld on cello, and Kyle Esposito on bass, along with SriKala Kerel Roach, Avinash and Naren Budhkar adding rhythm.  The pair has once again recruited Julie Last (Joni Mitchell, Ricki Lee Jones), who produced “Live Your Love,” to co-produce and mix the new CD.

All of which adds up to a CD in the making that you don’t want to miss.  A fall 2014 release is anticipated.  Why not take a moment right now to pre-order it — and peruse the lineup of great perks SRI Kirtan is offering in exchange for your contribution to this effort?

Help make “Daga Magi Chal” happen by donating to this campaign now!

Please spread the word in this final week by sharing this post on social media.

Contribute to SRI Kirtan’s Indiegogo Campaign
Listen to SRI Kirtan’s Music
Visit www.srikirtan.com for more

Connect with The Bhakti Beat!

Subscribe to The Bhakti Beat
The Bhakti Beat on facebook
The Bhakti Beat on twitter
The Bhakti Beat on YouTube
The Bhakti Beat on Google+
 
Previous articles in this series:
Jim Beckwith
Brenda McMorrow
Sean Johnson & The Wild Lotus Band
David Newman aka Durga Das
Sheela Bringi
 
Like what you see here?  Help us keep The Bhakti Beat flowing!  Consider donating today, a one-time contribution or a recurring contribution — any amount is so appreciated and will help us continue to bring you the bhav.  The Bhakti Beat is a labor of love, completely self-funded by Brenda Patoine (moi), who is a freelance neuroscience writer by day.  Every little bit helps! THANK YOU! Donate Here.
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Jim Beckwith, Bhakti Fest, by TheBhaktiBeat.com
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Jim Beckwith at Bhakti Fest Midwest by TheBhaktiBeat.comProject: Full-length Studio-Recorded CD
Fundraising Goal: $12,000
Deadline: April 30, 2014 @ 11:59 p.m. PT
Contribute  Here NOW!
 
Ed. Note: This is part of our ongoing series on Crowdfunding Kirtan, in which fans and friends contribute money for new recording projects in exchange for “perks” ranging from free downloads to private concerts.  The trend has grown as record labels have cut back and artists have to fund projects themselves.

 The Artist

Is it us, or is Jim Beckwith showing up everywhere these days?  He is one of those guys who seems to always be on stage at festivals like Bhakti Fest, surrounded by a pile of instruments from shakers to sitar and diligently backing up the lead wallah in whatever way is needed.  A “sound colorist,” Beckwith calls himself — someone who can pick up whatever instrument is necessary to add just the right shade of acoustic toning to support the flow of the music at that moment.  Sounds right to us.

That said, Beckwith is a vocalist first and foremost.  In an interview with The Bhakti Beat from his car, dodging tumbleweeds enroute from his home in Ojai, Calif. to play at a retreat with Saul David Raye in Denver, he said, without hesitation:  “I am a singer,” when asked which, among the many he proffers, is his instrument of choice.  Singing, he said, “is the passion at my core. I only started playing any instrument to support the singing.”

The passion shows.  Beckwith has a vocal range that would make an opera singer do a double-take.  (In fact, Placido Domingo, Jr., the opera singer and son of the famed tenor and conductor, apparently did just that, telling Beckwith he had a voice like “a refined Sting.”)  He can soar to lilting heights or ground you like a bass line.  He is completely self-taught; his formal vocal training consists of a single voice class in college.  “I always had some fear around taking formal vocal lessons,” he told The Bhakti Beat. “I guess I was afraid someone would try to tell me how to sing.”

Jim Beckwith Saul David Raye, on TheBhaktiBeat.com

Orchestrating a Mood

All of those instruments — sitar included — have came in handy as he has moved into more fulfilling musical roles.  Around 2005, a chance encounter delivering a sound system to Jai Uttal ended up with a weekend-long gig playing percussion for the bhakti master, whose regular tablist, Daniel Paul, was otherwise engaged. “I was instantly in love,” Beckwith says. “I wanted to follow him everywhere — but he had Daniel Paul!” Instead, Beckwith stayed in Florida and started picking up gigs with the iconic Bhagavan Das, who gave Beckwith his spiritual name of Hanuman Das.

Over the last 10 years or so, Beckwith has earned a reputation  for supporting the flow of energy in yoga classes, choosing from his toolkit of music-making devices to create the right mood and enhance the dance of asana.  He was doing “live-music yoga” before everybody was doing live-music yoga; at the time he was pioneering the practice in the Eastern U.S., yoga-with-a-band was virtually unheard of outside of the trend-setting L.A. yoga scene.  He’s carved out quite a little niche for himself in the genre (can you call it a genre?), traveling to yoga conferences nationwide, and has become a regular fixture at close friend and yogi superstar Saul David Raye’s retreats and workshops.

Jim Beckwith at Bhakti Fest by TheBhaktiBeat.com

The Project: First Chant CD ‘Hybrid’

Recently, Beckwith has stepped into the center of the kirtan stage to take the lead call himself.  His debut set at Bhakti Fest — a milestone that has become somewhat of a marker of a kirtan wallah’s coming-of-age — was  last fall on the Joshua Tree festival’s Hanuman stage.  In the heat of the blazing afternoon sun in the high desert, he and nine or so close musician friends stepped up and created a buzz among the crowd of hard-core yogi-chanters who turned out for the set.  Saul David Raye introduced Beckwith warmly and stepped in to accompany his friend on the harmonium for the final song.

This will be Beckwith’s seventh CD and the first one focused on chant.  But don’t expect it to be traditional call-and-response kirtan.  Rather, it will be what he calls a “hybrid,” a reflection of his evolving style, which mixes English lyrics culled from his songwriting roots with traditional mantras — hopefully in way that makes sense, he said with a chuckle.

The CD, and his emerging role of songwriter-meets-wallah, is all part of the evolution of Jim Beckwith. “When I first started getting into kirtan, I wasn’t sure what my path would be,” he said.  “I felt a little uncomfortable about how to be myself in it.  Could I do my lyrical content in the context of kirtan?”

He said watching people such as David Newman and Girish combine their singer/songwriting sensibilities with the mantras gave him confidence to pursue the direction his intuition was pointing him in.  “For so many years, I was just kind of dabbling in music without really knowing where I was going with it,” he told The Bhakti Beat. “Now I feel like I’m really stepping into my path.  That is such a relief.  It’s been a process of surrender and getting clear on what my ‘thing’ is.”

Jim Beckwith, Bhakti Fest, by TheBhaktiBeat.comThe yet-to-be-named hybrid album is already in progress.  Beckwith has selected the songs and has begun to lay down instrumentals on each track.  Backing him up will be familiar names in the kirtan world, including Jennifer Sparks on vocals and, on one song at least, harp; David Watts on bass; Matthew Hufschmidt on drums, and others to be determined — most likely including Brenda McMorrow and Benjy Wertheimer, Beckwith said.  A summer 2014 release is anticipated.

Help make that happen by donating to this campaign now!

Contribute to Jim Beckwith’s Indiegogo Campaign
Listen to Jim Beckwith’s Music

Connect with The Bhakti Beat!

Subscribe to The Bhakti Beat
The Bhakti Beat on facebook
The Bhakti Beat on twitter
The Bhakti Beat on YouTube
The Bhakti Beat on Google+
 
Previous articles in this series:
Brenda McMorrow
Sean Johnson & The Wild Lotus Band
David Newman aka Durga Das
Sheela Bringi
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Project: Full-length Studio-Recorded CD
Fundraising Goal: $25,000
Deadline: Friday, Feb. 15, 2013 @ Midnight PT.
 
Ed. Note: This is part of our ongoing series, Crowd-Funding Kirtan (more article links at bottom).  Crowd-funding, in which fans and friends contribute money for new recording projects in exchange for “perks” ranging from free downloads to private concerts, has become a huge trend in the music business as record labels have cut back.

The Artist

Brenda McMorrow is hot and getting hotter.    She recently released a music video and single of her popular Hanuman Chalisa rap, just wrapped up recording back-up vocals for David Newman’s CD in-the-works, and is deep into songwriting and prep for solo album No. 3, the focus of her current crowd-funding campaign on IndieGogo.   She’s been touring incessantly in the U.S., Canada and Europe, and a second European tour starts in March.  She has landed center stage at Bhakti Fest and other chant festivals worldwide and has performed live with such bhakti luminaries as Jai Uttal, Dave Stringer, GuruGanesha Singh, Wah!, and more.  Just a couple weeks ago, in what McMorrow told us was “a dream come true,” she got to sing on stage with Snatam Kaur as part of the Sikh songstress’ double-header concert in Boulder, Colo., with David Newman (who McMorrow accompanied on vocals).

A relative newcomer to the kirtan circuit (she released her first CD, Ameya, in 2008), she is not new to life as a traveling musician, having played live concerts since the 90’s.  A firey, Canadian-born singer/songwriter with an approachable, down-to-earth vibe, McMorrow combines that songwriter ethos with folk, jazz and bluesy roots — and some serious chops on the acoustic guitar.  All of these influences come through in her live kirtans and recordings. 

During Dave Stringer's set at Bhakti Fest Midwest

McMorrow discovered kirtan in 2004 when a friend invited her to a yoga workshop where the instructor led a simple Shiva chant.  The experience triggered in her “a profound knowing [that] her musical journey was leading her to places more expansive and heart-opening than she had ever imagined,” according to her bio.

The Project

McMorrow has teamed up with sought-after producer/musician Ben Leinbach, who produced Ameya and Love Abounds, to create the yet unnamed new CD.  She praised Leinbach’s “brilliant” musicality and “inspiring” talents as producer, engineer, co-writer and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire.  Recording is set to begin in late March at Leinbach’s Marin County, Calif., studio, with a goal of releasing the disc this summer.  Her back-up band so far includes (in addition to Leinbach) percussionist Narada Wise, Philippo Franchini on guitar and Adam Bauer, with special guests to be announced.  Hmmmm…might we see a David Newman cameo on this record? 

At the core of the new album, McMorrow told The Bhakti Beat, will be a collection of songs familiar to those who have been at her live kirtans over the last couple years — songs like this Maha Lakshmi, perhaps — plus some new songs that she said have been “coming through” just in the last few weeks.  It’s still early in the album-creation process, so she was cautious about predicting a “feel” for the disc, but terms like “groove-oriented” and “ambient electronic sounds” worked their way into the description.  Hmmmm…might we see a little smackering of — dare we say it — kirtronica in the mix? 

Kirtronica Trance

There was that trancey late-night session at Bhakti Fest Midwest where she and Dave Stringer chanted improv from the Radiance Sutras to electronic grooves and percussive riffs amidst a crowd of writhing night-owl bhaktas and flourescent strobes…

It’s all speculation of course, because, hey, these things take time, and tend to be revealed over the course of the recording and engineering of an album.  About the only thing one can say for certain at this point is that McMorrow will be bringing her axe:  the  acoustic guitar ever-present at her kirtans will be “very present” on the CD, she promised. 

‘Offering Our Services to the Song’

Part of her own evolution as a kirtan artist, McMorrow said, is to let go of any “fixed ideas” about how a song or compilation of songs should be.  “When I first started singing kirtan, my mind was a little more involved.”  She was always second-guessing herself, she said, questioning if she was “doing it right,” if the songs were long enough, if she was leaving enough time in silence between chants… “Now, I find that it’s much easier to just allow whatever emerges to emerge.  It’s a much more graceful experience…”  Having experimented with a lot of different genres of music has helped her to “just be open to how the songs want to emerge.”

“As kirtan artists, what we’re doing, really, is offering our services to the song,” said McMorrow.

Up Next: Europe and Beyond

McMorrow has been storming the country for months now, with an ambitious tour schedule plus the recording project with David Newman.  The Bhakti Beat caught up with her  at Yogaville, the Satchidananda Ashram in Virginia, where she is catching a little R&R before she heads out in a couple weeks for her second European tour.  Joined by Italian songstress Emy Berti, who also sang for the David Newman recording , she starts in Milan, Italy March 6 and winds her way to Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Czechoslavakia.  Seoul, South Korea is also on the schedule for this year.

Check out McMorrow’s IndieGogo campaign site to learn about a whole slew of “bhakti extras” that McMorrow’s friends in the kirtan community have donated to help her reach her goal.  Think: two tickets to a show in Prema Hara’s upcoming tours; a Resonance Healing session from Sarah Garney;  a mala from Katie Campbell’s Bliss Jewels, or a Home Consultation from “Space Guru” Susan Shehata.  And lots more you can learn about on the IndieGogo page.

Links & Deets

Contribute Now to Brenda McMorrow’s CD Funding Drive
www.BrendaMcMorrow.com
Official Music Video of the Hanuman Chalisa
Download the Hanuman Chalisa (Windblown Version) single on iTunes
Hanuman Chalisa Rocks New Melodies from Brenda McMorrow, SRI Kirtan
Where’s the Bhav: Brenda McMorrow NorthEast Tour 2012

 

Also see previous articles in this series:
Sean Johnson & The Wild Lotus Band
David Newman aka Durga Das
Sheela Bringi
 
Subscribe to The Bhakti Beat
The Bhakti Beat on facebook
The Bhakti Beat on twitter
The Bhakti Beat on YouTube
The Bhakti Beat on Google+
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Okay, Christmas isn’t exactly a Hindu or Vaishnava holy day– we get that — but apparently it is a national holiday in Mother India, and celebrated exuberantly.  Here in the West, well, Christmas is hard to escape, no matter your religious leanings (or lack thereof).  We’re willing to bet that there are a few people out there who’ve got some kirtan junkies on their gift list, or who might (gasp!) be one themselves and need to drop some hints.  We asked around, and the Wish-List items poured in. 

So here it is, The Bhakti Beat’s Official 2012 Holiday Gift Guide for Chantheads, Kirtan Junkies & Mantra Revolutionaries. 

These are not just any gifts, mind you.  These are gifts that, in one way or another, embody the spirit of devotion and service that is bhakti, from handmade malas by an up-and-coming Midwestern wallah to the gift of sight for a blind child through an international non-profit foundation.  Conscious gifting that supports the bhakti community.  Way better than Walmart.

What would you add to the list?

1. The Best of the Fests

If you go to just one big kirtan event all year, Bhakti Fest had better be the one.  Nowhere else — outside of India of course — will you get this much mantra music from this many masterful musicians all in one sweet spot.  Choose from Shakti Fest in May, Bhakti Fest Midwest in July, or the One and Only Original four-day extravaganza in September.  Until Jan. 1, you can get the Holiday Deal:  Bhakti Fest West tickets for $200 (they will eventually go up to a full price of $400 each).  Or, buy two tickets for $350.  Similar deals are available for Shakti Fest.  As a bonus, if you buy a ticket by Dec. 17, you’ll be automatically entered to win a free ticket to Bhakti Fest and a free download of the live CD, Be in the Bhav, recorded at Bhakti Fest 2011.  What could be more bhavalicious than that?

Special Holiday Deal for Shakti Fest/Bhakti Fest: $50 off 2 tickets.
Buy Bhakti Fest tickets
Bhakti Fest website

 2. Mantra Malas Made with Bhakti Love

Photo Courtesy of BijouxPascale

So, maybe your kirtan buddy already has mala beads wrapped around his or her wrist.  But does she have a hand-knotted gemstone mala from BijouxPascale?  Individually crafted devotional beads infused with bhakti love by Midwest up-and-coming wallah Pascale LaPoint (of the band Kirtan Path), the malas are available in two dozen different gemstones.  Each is one of a kind.  We love this green magnasite one that stars a circular disc as the 109th “guru bead,” but there are lots more to choose from, plus necklace sets and earrings.  And you know these malas are not just a fashion accessory, right?  Japa — repeating a mantra 108 times, using the beads to count — is an ancient and very powerful meditation mode. 

**Special for Bhakti Beaters: Use code BHAKTIBEAT2012 and get 10% off your order.
BijouxPascale on etsy.com

3. Demystify the Harmonium

Got a wallah wannabe on your list?  Queens, N.Y.-based bhakti firefighter Keith Villanueva (aka Hanumanji) has created a harmonium-learning program that’s all the buzz among budding bhaktas and long-time chant-leaders alike.  At the core is Demystifying the Harmonium Workbook A-Z, a comprehensive guidebook with step-by-step instructions on how to play melodies and create chord progressions in every key.  With the purchase of the book comes membership in an exclusive group on facebook where you can access tutorial videos for more than a dozen chants and interact with others who are learning or perfecting their techniques.  Kind of like a support group for chantaholics.  Get it all for $45.

**Special for Bhakti Beaters:  Free shipping on the workbook (normally $6); contact Villanueva directly for details.
www.harmoniumworkbook.com

4. Bhakti Art from Jennifer Mazzucco 

Artwork by Jennifer Mazzucco

How about some inspiring spiritual art infused with the energy and images of India?  Devotional artist Jennifer Mazzucco — whose artwork adorns SriKalogy covers and the upcoming debut CD from Nina Rao — has just released her third self-published book of original artwork and observations on life.  Opening Up in Sweet Surrender, described as a daily journal of a recent year in Mazzucco’s bhakti-infused life, has 265 pages of her signature artistic musings and devotional doodles, fused with words, colors and images to “connect with the divinity within,” she writes.  It’s kind of like Be Here Now-meets-Sark/Juicy Life, stylistically and energetically.  Softcover: $58.95/hardcover: $77.95 (less $10 for the holidays). 

Mazzucco’s creations are also available as art prints and greeting cards at the websites below — a huge selection of sacred images on FineArtAmerica.com and a multihued collection of Ganesha block prints on etsy.com. 

Buy “Opening Up in Sweet Surrender” on blurb.com (Use code GIVE10 to get $10 off the book for holiday giving.)

**Special for Bhakti Beaters:  BONUS Handmade piece of artwork with every purchase:
Art Prints & Greeting Cards from Jennifer Mazzucco on FineArtAmerica.com (email Jennifer when you’ve purchased to receive the Bonus Gift)
Hand-Carved Block Prints featuring Ganesha, on reminders2bepresent on etsy.com (Bonus Gift will be given automatically)

5. Beeswax Candles from Dharma Boutique

Photo by Jonathan Sherrill

Do your friends and loved ones a favor this year and fill their stockings with beeswax candles and tea lights — or any non-paraffin based candle.  Those cheap tea lights you can get at Walmart for $3 a hundred?  Not the best thing to light up your altar or sacred space.  There’s a growing appreciation that such candles, which are typically made from the dregs of petroleum processing, emit toxic chemicals like toluene and benzene.  Right now, pure beeswax candles handmade by a small group of women in Rajasthani, India, are 20 percent off at Dharma Boutique, the import business owned and operated by bhakti bassist Adam Bauer.  And while you’re stocking up on tea lights, check out his inspiring collection of devotional objets d’art, textiles, singing bowls, jewelry, and vintage items collected on his travels to India and beyond.  Dharma Boutique supports fair trade and sources its products from family enterprises, small crafts-people and local artisans wherever possible.

**Special for Bhakti Beaters:  Free tulsi mala with purchase of $100 or more.
Pure beeswax candles from Dharma Boutique (20% off with code MAYA)
Dharma Boutique Home Page

6. Make Music Happen

Hey here’s a radical thought: buy music from the musicians who make it.  Because, let’s face it, most of these artists who are enriching our lives aren’t getting rich off their efforts.  It’s a dirty secret outside of the music industry that artists themselves get mere fractions of pennies for each “play” on sites like Spotify.  Physical CD sales are way down, and digital-download sites like iTunes and Amazon each take another cut of the profits along with music publishers.  At the same time, record labels are less likely to finance a studio recording up front, leaving the onus of CD production to artists.  Crowd-funding services like IndieGogo and Kickstarter are practically viral these days.  How can we, as consumers of this very unique niche “product,” best support the artists we love? 

Fantuzzi at Bhakti Fest 2011

There’s no simple answer, but one approach is a spin on “Buy Local.”  Go to the artist’s own website and follow their links for purchase.  Some have mechanisms for purchasing music directly from their sites, or they will direct you to the link that is most amenable to their continued survival as artists.  Take every opportunity to buy CDs directly from artists on tour.  Or, go to your favorite conscious-living store to buy them; most stores will order the CDs if they don’t have them in stock, and you’ll be demonstrating to the store owner that there is a demand for this music.  Support artists’ fund-raising drives, like the recent ones of Sean Johnson & The Wild Lotus Band and David Newman, by pre-buying CDs and other perks to help finance the recording, mixing and making of new releases.  Make your gifts of music also gifts to music. 

Start today!  These are just a few of the CD-funding drives ongoing right now in the mantra-music world:
Multi-Instrumentalist Phenom Sheela Bringi, for her Debut CD
Up-and-Coming Sikh Songstress Sirgun Kaur, for her Debut Solo Kirtan CD
Ecstatic World Music Warrior Fantuzzi, for Ease and Grace CD
Texas-Based The Bhakti House Band, for CD and “Peace Love Om” Seva Project 

7. Give Good Karma

How about giving the gift of sight to a blind person this holiday season?  Or economic opportunities for impoverished women and children?  Start a new tradition that will make a real difference in the lives of people in need by giving “Gifts of Service” from the non-profit Seva Foundation.  Seva was co-founded by Google CEO Larry Brilliant in 1978 in collaboration with Ram Dass, Wavy Gravy and others, and is a leading innovator in eye-care services and other programs that create sustainable solutions to poverty and disease in vulnerable populations around the globe.  With Seva’s Gifts of Service, you can honor a loved one by directly helping to reduce suffering in the world.  A $50 gift, for example, covers the cost of cataract surgery for one person; $100 supports the well-being of Native American women by providing health education, building community support and fostering leadership development.  You can also buy Seva merchandise like T-shirts, caps, or this sweet calendar of children around the world, and the foundation will use your donation where it is most needed.

Seva Foundation’s “Gifts of Service” Program

8. Win-Win Gifting

Photo courtesy of Girish Music

Love the idea of giving presents that serve a greater purpose, but still want something tangible to put under the tree for your sweetie?  We have the perfect solution:  a gorgeous Lakshmi bracelet, handmade by Long Island, N.Y., bhakta Nadine Wolff.  Every penny of the proceeds go to Wolff’s fundraising drive for Off the Mat Into the World’s Global Seva Challenge India, which supports grassroots initiatives to help rescue and rehabilitate women and children victimized by the sex-trafficking trade.  Your lucky gift recipient will be invoking the blessings of Lakshmi — the goddess of wealth, prosperity (both material and spiritual), and beauty — and you will know that you contributed to putting an end to the poverty and abuse of women and children in India.  Act fast — before Dec. 15 — to get the special price of $45, available through a collaboration with Girish Music.  ($60 after Dec. 15.)

Lakshmi Bracelet in Support of Global Seva Challenge  (Special Price of $45 till Dec. 15)

9. Spread the Bhav

Larisa Stow: Reaching Out

How about making a donation in your loved one’s name to a local, grass-roots group or artist who is doing charity work in your community? There are lots of small and mid-sized charity organizations working hard to bring the healing power of mantra music to populations in need — from children to people with mental illnesses to prisoners.  Larisa Stow & Shakti Tribe have pioneered this model in the prisons of California through their Shakti Tribe Peace Outreach.  Benjy and Heather Wertheimer have taken their Shantala sacred music into prisons in Oregon.  The Call and Response Foundation, a non-profit based in Vermont, has spearheaded chant programs at children’s and psychiatric hospitals with Dave Stringer, the Mayapuris, and Gaura Vani.  It’s another way that kirtan is being taken “out of the yoga studio,” as Gaura Vani has said.  Be part of the movement; give a gift that gives again and again.

 

Okay, your turn:  what’s on your own Bhakti Wish List?  Tell us about your favorite bhakti-inspired artist or merchant.  Which chant CD is on your must-have list? 

Hare Christmas to All One!

Namaste Santa. (Photo by Prakash Singh/Agency France-Press/Getty Images)

 

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Photo from www.shebrings.com

The Project: Debut CD
The Goal: $17,500
The Deadline: November 16, Midnight Pacific Time
Raised as of 11/16: $12,401
The Campaign Continues Until Fully Funded — Donate Here Now!

The Artist

Sheela Bringi has all the makings of a mantra-music star being born. She grew up in a musical household rooted in the West but steeped in the sounds and traditions of the East.  Her Indian-born parents, devotees of Sai Baba and Amma, hosted weekly satsangs and Sunday gatherings where she and the other girls learned bhajans from her mother while her father taught the boys mridanga drumming.  Summers were spent visiting relatives in South India, joyfully joining “singing parties that would encompass everything from Beatles singalongs and Bollywood hits to full-fledged Carnatic ragas.” 

A star being born? (Photo by Masood Ali Khan)

As she grew up, Bringi’s informal lessons turned to formal training  with luminaries of Indian Classical music, including her bansuri teacher, the renowned Pandit G.S. Sachdev, and her mentors and teachers during her master’s degree in world music at the California Institute of the Arts, Ustaad Aashish Khan and Swapan Chaudhuri.  In the years since graduating she has made a name for herself performing and recording in the West Coast world-music scene and beyond.  Solo or in collaboration, her musicianship is flawless on the bansuri flute, harp, harmonium and vocals.   She has played with legendary tablist Karsh Kale and with acclaimed sitarist and Ravi Shankar disciplePaul Livingstone.  In the mantra-music scene, she has opened for Grammy-nominated kirtan pioneer Jai Uttal and played with Wah!, Gaura Vani and Dave Stringer.  The past year saw her teaming up with hang drum sensation Masood Ali Khan for bi-coastal tours that included a coveted spot on the line-up for Omega Institute’s Spring Ecstatic Chant weekend.

The Project

With producer Clinton Patterson (Photo by Masood Ali Khan)

The seeds for Bringi’s debut album were planted in those weekly satsangs of her youth.  She told The Bhakti Beat that about a third of the CD will be based on the bhajans her mother taught her as a child, resurrected in the studio with a cast of musicians led by producer/songwriter/trumpeteer Clinton Patterson, Bringi’s long-time collaborator on PremaSoul.  The rest of the record will feature mantras “rearranged in new ways” and Bringi’s own original compositions with harp, bansuri and harmonium.  Featured musicians include Carnatic singer Aditya Prakash, Masood Ali Khan on percussion, drummer Gene Coye (Carlos & Salvador Santana, Larry Carlton), bassist Ben Shepherd (David Archuleta), and tabla player Javad Butah.  She’s particularly excited to bring in Jake Charkey, a Mumbai-based artist who plays an “unusual and rare” style of cello in the Hindustani tradition. 

This is not an album that can be easily labeled; expect a genre-bending fusion of world music with ancient Indian melodies and mantras interlaced with with harp, bansuri, voice, strings, hang drum, tabla, and more, Bringi said.  One thing is sure: it will not be your traditional call-and-response kirtan album.  “With this album,” Bringi says in her campaign video (below), “I hope to express the songs of my two traditions with one voice, to honor my heritage, break down boundaries and uplift hearts.”  Recording has already begun and the target release date for the disc is February 1.

Bringi On Crowd-Funding

Saying Thank You

The process of reaching out to friends and fans to help fund her debut CD has itself been somewhat of a spiritual practice for Bringi, who describes herself as “socially shy” and “not the type to be putting myself out there.” 

“Asking for help is a little bit challenging for me, so this campaign for me personally has been partly about pushing past fears,” she said in an interview.  “It’s been a way to push myself to open up, to receive support and to share more widely what I’m trying to do with my music.”

What’s Next?

With Masoon Ali Khan (Photo courtesy of Sheela Bringi)

As soon as the new CD hits the digital airwaves, Bringi will be embarking on a worldwide tour in concert with Masood Ali Khan, which will take the pair to India, Japan and Europe before heading back to New York in June for a repeat of their successful East Coast tour last fall.

Shorter term, Bringi and Ali Khan are performing at a charity gala in Beverly Hills, Calif., Nov. 14 that is raising money to benefit orphans and “vulnerable children” around the world (details here).  On November 15, Bringi plays for superstar yogi Shiva Rea in Rea’s popular Prana Flow Chakra Vinyasa class at Exhale Venice.

Video Message from Sheela Bringi

Sheela Bringi’s Debut Album from Sheela Bringi on Vimeo.

Links & Deets

Sheela Bringi’s Website
Sheela Bringi’s Indigogo Campaign  (CLOSED; Contribute Here Now)
Sheela Bringi on Fanbridge
Sheela Bringi’s Band Page on Facebook
PremaSoul on Facebook
 
Also see previous articles in this series:
Sean Johnson & The Wild Lotus Band
David Newman aka Durga Das
 
Subscribe to The Bhakti Beat
The Bhakti Beat on facebook
The Bhakti Beat on twitter
The Bhakti Beat on YouTube
The Bhakti Beat on Google+
 
PLEASE SHARE WITH YOUR PEEPS! 

 

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David Newman (Durga Das)

Project:  Full-length Studio-Recorded CD
Fundraising Goal: $25,000
Deadline:  Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.
Raised as of 10/30: $15,257
 
Ed. Note: This is part of our ongoing series (more article links at bottom) on crowd-funding, the new buzzword in the music business, in which fans and friends contribute money for new recording projects in exchange for “perks” ranging from free downloads to private concerts.  

The Artist

In David Newman, aka Durga Das, kirtan meets singer/songwriter.  The marriage has been a prolific one, with Newman well on his way to album Nos. 8 (a remix due in early 2013) and 9 (the album currently being funded).  In the 11 years since his first self-produced CD, Soul Freedom, Newman’s visibility and popularity on the kirtan scene has risen steadily, each new release further showcasing his songwriting chops and talent for seamlessly mixing traditional Sanskrit mantras with original English lyrics evoking hope, unity, and devotion.

Kickin' it up at Bhakti Fest 2012

Today, Newman is one of kirtan’s most sought-after touring artists — he tours relentlessly worldwide — and, with wife Mira on percussion and back-up vocals, has become a favorite at chant festivals large and small.  He was a yogi before he was a bhakta, having opened his Yoga on Main studio in Philadelphia 20 years ago, long before yoga was the craze it is today.  He’s also an activist and master collaborator with a knack for circling the kirtan troops in support of environmental causes, as he has with Stay Strong, the popular single and video that raised funds for cleaning up the Gulf oil spill, and the soon-to-be-released Stay Strong 2: You Can Count on Me, which supports construction of “green” schools in needy communities (more on that below).

The Project

Newman has turned to IndieGogo, the popular crowd-funding website, to raise cash for the production of a new studio CD tentatively slated for late 2013 release.  The CD will include two or three original English songs, Newman told The Bhakti Beat, as well as “lots of chanting” in the more traditional vein.  In a departure from his last release, Stars, in which he and producer Bill Moriarty crafted the tracks and brought in musicians one at a time to add layers, the new CD will be recorded with a group of musicians playing together live in the studio. 

Axemen: with David Watts and Philippo Franchini

The band will include Brenda McMorrow and Emy Berti (vocals), Philippo Franchini (guitar), David Watts (bass), Corey Sokoloff (percussion) and Eli Salzman (keys), in addition to Mira on percussion and vocals.  Moriarty will produce.  A recording studio has been booked for early January to lay down the tracks.  Newman said most of the material for the as yet-untitled record is already written — and there are a couple pieces in particular that he is very enthusiastic to record — but he’s also leaving room for improvisation in the studio.  And with that group of musicians, improv is likely to spell magic…

Here’s Newman singing a solo version of the title track from Stars at Bhakti Fest in September:

Newman: Crowd-Funding is the ‘New Paradigm’

Long before he was a yogi or a bhakta, and even before he went to law school (yeah, he did that too), Newman worked for a stint in the L.A. music business — back when the music business was a very different animal. Today, he said, record labels no longer make enough money on physical CD sales to justify forking over a chunk of money in advance for an artist to make a new record. “This leaves the burden on the artist to foot that bill,” he told The Bhakti Beat.  In the beginning, he said he “definitely had a resistence to reaching out to my community to support me in this process,” but he has embraced it as a “new paradigm in the relationship between the artist and the listener.”

“This is a way for artists to say to the community: ‘If this music is important in your life, here is a way you can support its continued existence,'” Newman said.  “Ultimately, the music really belongs to the person who is listening to it and who is touched by it, so it’s like everybody is pooling in to bring forward this offering in all of our lives.”  Accepting the contributions from fans, he said, “has been kind of like a yoga for me, to just receive it and say thank you.”

More News

Remix Bliss: Newman just announced that Stars is being remixed by veteran composer and music mixologist Krishna Venkatesh and will be released in early 2013 as ReBliss: Stars Revisited.  Remixed releases are a growing trend in mantra music — Donna De Lory and Girish have offered remixes recently, and Srikalogy has a “Kirtan Sessions” series featuring funked-up remixes of mantras, to name just three — but this will be a first for Newman, who sees it as a “different vehicle for people to experience my music.” It will have a “trippy, groovy” feel, he said, that he hopes will appeal to a younger audience.

Banner for Stay Strong 2: You Can Count on Me/Shyam Bolo (credit: Jenni Young)

Stay Strong 2: You Can Count on Me:  The sequel to the Stay Strong charitable project that Newman initiated in 2011 is imminent, with a single called “You Can Count on Me/Shyam Bolo” and video to be released in mid-November.  Newman gave The Bhakti Beat a sneak peek at the joyride of a jam session where the song and video was recorded (at L.A.’s legendary Village Recorder studio) with an all-star cast of mostly SoCal bhaktas — and believe us, you won’t want to miss this.  The song was written by Newman and Donna De Lory and features the vocal nectar of De Lory, C.C. White, and Shyamdas, in addition to all three of the Newmans — yes, even toddler Tulsi got her chance at the mike.  (See this video from Bhakti Fest West for a mellower version of the song.)  All proceeds from the digital-only single go to Global Green’s Green School programUPDATERead our article on the Stay Strong release.

A short sweet performance of “Like Rain,” (from To Be Home CD) at Shakti Fest in May:

Links and Deets

To contribute:  http://www.indiegogo.com/davidnewmanCD?c=home
Newman’s website:  www.davidnewmanmusic.com
Stay Strong website:  www.staystrongproject.com

 

Stay tuned for more in this continuing series, Crowd-Funding Kirtan.  Please contact bpatoine@aol.com if you have a suggestion for an artist to feature.

 

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Reason to smile...

Ed. Note:  Crowd-funding is the new buzzword in music production — and it’s taking off in the kirtan world right in step with other musical genres.  In this new model, artists are bypassing the traditional route of funding new releases — contracting with a record label — in favor of reaching out directly to their fan base to finance the high cost of professionally recording and producing a CD.  In return for their contributions, fans receive “perks” that range from an advance download of the CD (for, say, $10 or $15) all the way up to a private concert and Executive Producer credit (for $5,000-$10,000, typically).

In this occasional series, we’ll take a look at some of the crowd-funding efforts underway now in the mantra music world.

 

Sean Johnson & The Wild Lotus Band

Project:  Full-length CD
Fundraising Goal:  $30,000
Deadline:  October 29, 2012
Raised as of October 27: $28,745 (so close!)
Update: The band reached its goal one day ahead of the deadline!  You can still support the effort; all additional funds will go toward sharing the album with a wider worldwide audience and supporting an extensive CD release tour.

The Band

We have yet to meet anyone who has experienced the N’awlins-flavored bhav of this trio of musicians and hasn’t come away an instant fan.  For three people, they produce BIG sound.   Favorites at festivals everywhere — they were the first kirtan band ever invited to play at the New Orleans Jazz Festival — they are sought-after touring artists and hometown heroes in NOLA. 

Snake charmer Gwendolyn Colman

Bhakti yogi Sean Johnson leads with the harmonium and soulful vocals laced with dreamy poetry and original lyrical riffs deftly tucked into traditional chants.  Innovative percussionist and singer Gwendolyn Colman is one of bhakti’s most colorful characters, typically sporting a flourescent plume atop her fiery red braids and with a green rubber snake dangling from her mike stand (we know there’s a story behind that snake…).  And then there is tall, quiet axeman Alvin Young, a New Orleans institution who has graced the stage with jazz greats Wynton and Branford Marsalis and many others.  He plays with intensity, head down, resolutely plucking his bass and laying the foundation for rhythmic alchemy.

The Project

Alvin Young. Intense.

The goal is a full-length studio CD on a par, quality-wise, with the band’s last CD, Devaloka (a joy–get it if you haven’t).  Expected release date is fall/winter 2013.  The new CD’s title is as yet undetermined; Johnson told The Bhakti Beat: “We find that the name usually reveals itself once we’re in the studio, inside the process of creating the music.”  But, he added: “The theme is clear:  Unity — celebrating the connection between global cultures and spiritual traditions through music.”

If you’ve seen SJ&WLB live in the last year or so, you’ve likely gotten a good taste for the cross-cultural feast the new record promises.  The band’s fundraising page says it will include a number of songs from their current tours, including the anthem-like Unity (Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu), which was released as a music video this summer; the gospel classic I’ll Fly Away; the Sufi chant La ilaha illa Allah; The Way Of Love (Jai Kali Ma); I Will Rise Again; Hare Krishna; Ramachandra, and more.   All except for I’ll Fly Away (see video at bottom) are original compositions, and the lyrics include mantras from different spiritual traditions and the poetry of Rumi.

Here’s a live take of Unity that we caught at Shakti Fest this spring…

 

Message from Sean Johnson

“This year, after much thought and discussion, Alvin and Gwendolyn and I decided to make a leap of faith and to move away from the traditional music label model on our next album.  The biggest question in making this decision was how to fund a high-quality, full-length professional studio recording on par with our last release Devaloka and get it out there in the world without the support of a record label? We had heard encouraging stories from many bands from around the world who were having great success with a new model called crowd-funding, in which they invited friends and fans to make contributions toward the high production costs of their projects in exchange for gifts and perks, including downloads of the album once it’s completed. With an open mind, we launched a campaign on the popular crowd-funding website Indiegogo.com in July.  Can you help us rally to meet our goal?”
 
Here is the song that Johnson & The Wild Lotus Band typically close their sets with, and which inevitably gets a lot of people teary-eyed.  (It’s making me cry right now….read the comment on its YouTube page and you’ll see why.)
 

The Links and Deets

 
Stay tuned for more featured artists in this new series, Crowd-Funding Kirtan.  And please support your favorite artists by contributing and sharing the news.
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